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Pit Bull Behavioral Question

June 6th, 2005, 11:07 PM
Hello, all. First of all, let me say that I am very happy to see a special segment of the forum dedicated to pit bulls. I am a pit bull lover through and through, having two of my own and having helped start a rescue here in Virginia. It's refreshing to see others of the same sentiments.

Anyways, on to my question. I have two pit bulls, one is a lab/pit mix (Male) and the other is either full AmStaff (Female) or pretty close to it. They are each about 1.5 years old now.

The female has always been the more lively of the two. She loves to play yard, run circles around the yard and just generally act like a maniac. The male, on the otherhand, is just a big goof. He will play with the female, but usually only if prodded by her running into him with toys in her mouth. Anyway, for the last year+, I have walked the two of them together, using Halti easy walkers. They have always done fine and I rarely ever had a problem with them not getting along while walking side by side.

Over the last month; however, every time I put the Haltis on them, we have had problems. I usually harness up the male and let him outside to wait at the gate. Then I harness the female and let her out, grab them both, open the gate and start the walk. Well, as of late, every time they wait at the gate for it to open, the female will lean her face into the males (who looks straight ahead, obviously trying to avoid confrontation) and start to get very tense and focused. When it first happened, I wasn't prepared and she would lean in to him and either he would have had enough of this intimidation and would snap at her, which would lead to a fight, or she would lean in slowly and then snap at his face. This has gone on for about a month now. A few weeks ago, I had been able to hold them apart until we got out the gate and to the street. Once we were at the street, she didn't try to snap at him again and we could walk fine. Well now, even at the street, she will try and attack him (it's not a play attack, it's clearly the real deal - she is very intense and focused on his face). It is at a point now where I cannot walk them together and, living alone, I have to walk one, then come get the other and walk them again to make sure they get their exercise.

When she snaps, I put her on her back, hold her muzzle and tell her "NO" and "BAD". When I let her up, she is still focused on the male and doesn't seem to have learned her lesson. I end up having to drag her in the house, holding her muzzle, at which point I tell her "BAD", close the door and walk the male by himself. I have tried to mix things up (letting her out first, giving treats before we get to the gate, talking nicely to both of them, trying to get her to walk carrying a rawhide, etc.). Nothing has worked.

Anyone have any advice? Thanks, in advance.


June 6th, 2005, 11:17 PM
Does this happen just when you are taking them for a walk?
Are they altered or intact?

June 6th, 2005, 11:24 PM
First off, I would suggest you stop rolling her onto her back and grabbing her face. Alpha rolls worked great for the monks a couple of hundred years ago, but is not recommended anymore. Besides, the next time you try this, you may lose your hand before you get it wrapped around her muzzle.

I was going to say that according to the breed standard pit bulls are supposed to be dog aggressive, but that would be my bad as there is no such thing as a pit bull. BUT - having said that, "the pit" bull breeds were developed to fight each other and most do have some degree of dog aggression. Sounds like your female may have an issue.

Have they had any formal training? Are they intact or have they been spayed/neutered?

Lucky Rescue
June 6th, 2005, 11:47 PM
You are punishing your female for being a pit bull. Please don't do that. She is still young, and her hostility towards your male could increase a lot.

No punishment will stop this. You have to manage them, and that may mean you will always have to walk them separately, and may in the future have to keep them separated all the time.

When she snaps, I put her on her back, hold her muzzle and tell her "NO" and "BAD". When I let her up, she is still focused on the male and doesn't seem to have learned her lesson.

This is like expecting a border collie to "learn his lesson" and ignore sheep if you roll him on his back. Aggression towards other dogs is genetic in pit bulls and ranges from very mild to severe, and anyone owning one must accept that fact. Do not punish your dog for doing what humans bred her to do.

I suggest you read the following site. It will explain all about pit bulls.

Finally, never EVER leave these dogs alone together.

Cactus Flower
June 7th, 2005, 12:14 AM
Lucky dear, you forgot to post the link ;) .

Kayla and Me
June 7th, 2005, 01:09 AM
Not sure I agree with the previous posters. I have a pit, and the minute I put the halty on her, I get a distinctive change in behaviour. She becomes extremely submissive and tries to get the halty off by rubbing her face into anything or anyone or any dog she encounters. It isn't the object she is going after but the purpose/focus of getting the halty removed. It took me about 2 months to figure this out. Sounds simple, but there were so many factors that were present that obstructed my ability to see it. I sometimes thought she was going to kill the person/dog/chair, but as aggressive as she seemed, I realized it wasn't really her. She was reacting to 'something'. We now only use the halty on a limited basis.

Just a suggestion...but try taking the halty off and just use the collar and leash.

As for rolling her on her back.......I haven't tried it, but I don't think I want to put my hand in the middle of the two dogs to proof my point. Personally, a spray water bottle is usuall effective on any dogs that don;t see eye to eye.

June 7th, 2005, 05:13 AM
I hope my response doesn;t get deleted like it did here last time for no reason, otherwise this is a waste of time responding to you.

How does she get along with your male when you aren't out for walks?

I would suggest you teach your girl the "watch me" command, when she does focus on your male when out for walks, you can redirect her when she does focus on him. Here is a link for the "watch me" command.

June 7th, 2005, 08:14 AM
I agree with Lucky. It's the nature of a pit bull to be/become dog agressive. You can't punish them for it, just manage it.

My pit bull is not dog agressive (yet). Doesn't mean it will never happen.

I think you may be escalating the problem in some ways.
Putting her on her back and forcing her to submit is cause for just another newspaper headline reading "Vicious pit bull attack!!! " This method should not be used on any breed of dog. You're asking for a bite.
Putting her back in the house and leaving with the male dog can escalate her agression because she's viewing him as the dominant one and could be trying to gain that status back from him by ways of aggression.
By what you have said - it sounds as though the male is very submissive to the female; maybe you should play on that. Feed her first, walk her first, show her that she is dominant over him and her agression could deminish... deminish but not vanish...

June 7th, 2005, 09:57 AM
It isn't the object she is going after but the purpose/focus of getting the halty removed. It took me about 2 months to figure this out. Sounds simple, but there were so many factors that were present that obstructed my ability to see it. I sometimes thought she was going to kill the person/dog/chair, but as aggressive as she seemed, I realized it wasn't really her. She was reacting to 'something'. We now only use the halty on a limited basis.

I am sorry this confused me. Could you better explain how the aggressive behavior wasn't really her?

Aggression is a response to something - Halti, dog, squirrel, toys,etc. The cause is not the factor as much as teaching/managing to eliminate the behavior.

Everyone, dogs & people, have choices to make on how they respond to life's stressors. Some may submit and try to disappear, while others become bold and try to make the stressor disappear - and every point on the line in between. Unfortunately Pit type breeds have a trigger switch that goes off depending on that particular dog's stress point. Some Pits are extremley soft in temperament and others are not. Some Yorkies are extremely soft and others are worse than Pits. The same can be said about any breed or mix. If you took some Toy temperaments and put them into a Golden Retreivers body - we would be having a ban on Goldens.

Pits are just capable of so much damage because their strength is enormous and their intensity can match it. We adore Pit breeds - but I am not sure I could invite just any Pit in to our very harmonious home with so many dogs and other species.

Lucky Rescue
June 7th, 2005, 02:37 PM
Lucky dear, you forgot to post the link

Ooops - in a rush here, sorry!! :o

Here is the link.

The Real Pit Bull (

June 7th, 2005, 07:47 PM
First of all, thanks for all of the replies. I appreciate the willingness to help. Here is some more information to answer some of the questions.

(1) You are correct, the male is very submissive to the female.
(2) They have both been to basic obedience training. He did very well. She did enough to pass.
(3) They get along fine when they are not on the Halti headed for a walk. She plays very rough (but it is obviously just play - she will charge into him with a toy in her mouth and try and get him to chase her or she will get him on his back and they will mouth each other, but never bite).
(4) I do not leave them alone unsupervised. The closest they come is being in the backyard together for 2-3 minutes at a stretch or less when I am in the front of the house with a window open to hear any fracas.
(5) The whole concept of putting her on her back was taught to me by a certified trainer with 3 pitbulls of her own, who has also founded a rescue in my city. She did it to the female the first time when my female went after her dog and it worked surprisingly well. I do understand the whole concern about being bitten; however. I am as careful as I can be when I do it (always sure to have her muzzle), but I understand what you mean. While I heard lots of criticism of this technique, I didn't really hear any alternate suggestions (the water gun for breaking up the fight is fine, I need something for after the fight is broken up).
(6) For those that said I shouldn't punish her for doing something she was bred to do, I completely disagree. She needs some type of action to teach her that attacking is wrong, otherwise it will run rampant. Would you suggest I give her treats each time she attacks? I'm sorry, but those responses were plain silly. I fully understand that it is in their nature and have read everything I can find online about pit bulls (I understand it's not a breed - you grasp what I am saying). It being in their nature doesn't mean you should try not to discourage it, it just means you should accept it and be prepared to deal with it.
(6) Like I said, they normally get along fine. The female is clearly dominant, but aside from this, not in any way that crosses the line from rough play. The funny part is that I have a 22 pound cat who is dominant over both of them. They will not even pass him in the hallway.

Any further suggestions are welcomed. If not, thanks for the info.


June 7th, 2005, 07:56 PM
I once tried to fit my dog for a Halti in the aisle at PetSmart. I was shocked as a pit puppy (about four months old) came walking down the aisle and right up to us. My mutt growled like I'd never heard him growl before OR since. I was appalled. He never does this. The employee said maybe the Halti made him feel defenceless. My response was ‘then why'd he growl he's just asking for it’.

Is it possible that the Halti is the issue? Do you walk them side by side so when she is feeling a little threatened her face is already next to the male which just might tick her off more?

Lucky Rescue
June 7th, 2005, 08:09 PM
Anyone have any advice?

Lots of people had advice, but the advice you didn't like, you call "silly". You were told that rolling a dog is bad, you say that is fine too because one trainer does it.

Would you suggest I give her treats each time she attacks?
I didn't see one person who suggested that.

If you don't wish to listen, fine, but don't insult the advice you did get.

I hope my response doesn;t get deleted like it did here last time for no reason, otherwise this is a waste of time responding to you

I know of no post of yours that was deleted, certainly not by me. If you had a post in a thread that was removed, that could be reason, or perhaps an entire thread was moved to an appropriate forum.

June 7th, 2005, 08:30 PM
Just one more note - there are "certified" trainers who use shock collars, pinch collars, hang dogs, choke chains etc. and we would not recommend any of their techniques. i.e. - Just because the dog submits to being hung does not make it an effective method of training.
Rolling a dog is the very last thing an experienced dog person should resort to. What are you going to do next if that doesn't work? And if you do it frequently then your dog will get desensitized to that as well - then what? We would rather see you work on your leadership skills, obedience and socialization - all of which could take some time with a dog who has shown tendencies towards aggression. Though we have worked many Pits and had great success very quickly.

June 7th, 2005, 08:37 PM

Thanks for your feedback. I have some for you as well - try reading instead of skimming and assuming. It works much better.

Let me correct you.

(1) I called one piece of advice "silly". Hence, the statement "advice you didn't like, you call silly" is a gross mistatement. Most of the advice was really good and helpful, which is why I posted more info, to get more of it.

(2) I never said rolling is fine because one person does it. Read again and pay attention this time. I simply provided context around where I had gotten the technique from. Not once did I say "I still think it's fine". I actually made a point to mention multiple times that I could see why it was a bad thing.

(3) I never said anyone suggested I give her treats, hence my question "Would you propose that I give her treats?" rather than a statement of "Your advice to give treats is silly" type statement. Again, you skim and respond with quick ignorance. My question was in response to whoever said that I should not try and punish her (punish being a relative term) for displaying aggression.

Listen, I understand you have 18,000 posts here and probably fancy yourself the King or Queen of your online domain. Regardless, I would suggest that you lower your pedestal a tiny bit, try to actually read what is being said with an open mind and respond with a little less arrogance. Just a thought.

To the questions I missed, they are both altered and the fact of them being side by side may have something to do with it. However, as I mentioned, there was a point where the aggression was just when they initially leashed up and waited at the gate and they could walk side by side just fine.

Either way, thanks for the advice. I will stop rolling her and check out the "watch me" command.


June 7th, 2005, 09:37 PM
Wow, things really seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. We are all here to learn and help each other. I have learned many things from everyone here - including how to write in a manner that others will be less likely to take offense at. When someone speaks in a defensive tone it can be misconstrued as aggressive - gee...the same thing goes for dogs. When someone speaks with authority I try to understand that it must come from good experience and have yet to think anyone is sitting too high on their horse.

As with ALL dogs -
It's right back to the 4 levels of relationship - inside the house, just outside the house, distance and distance/distractions.

If your dog doesn't listen inside then he wont listen outside with the excitement of distractions.

If you are a true leader to your dog when he has a choice to bark, to lunge or bite - they should first look to the leader for advice - that’s what a true follower will do naturally.

If your dog is reacting instead of looking to you for a decision your relationship needs to be improved. A relationship is love, trust and respect. People are great at the love not so great at instilling the trust and respect.

The more free time your dog has just hanging around the more insecure, impatient and independent he will be. Humans become housemates or littermates not leaders.

Leaders make decisions - its having your dog perform many things when you are together - it's called engagement. Our first 3 foundation drills are relationship drills. If those drills are good, everything else in the relationship will be also because your dog will do what you ask of them.

If your dog will heel, sit, down, leave it or stay with other animals walking by you won't have to worry about your own dog. So if your dog won't hold these positions there is a relationship problem at that level. Usually trust or respect.

Think of your dog as a ball of momentum rolling down a hill, stopping them early at the very first hint of bad behavior is easier. Reacting too late - the dog has more momentum and adrenalin rushes making things more difficult for you and the dog to control.

A leadership role is ongoing all of the time. It is not just doing random commands, it's who you are with your dog all of the time. A confident leader has a confident pack - and a well mannered pack. It does not need to be done physically or with treats - it's relationship. If you want to learn more about relationship check out our web site.

We teach that dogs are mirrors to their people - if a dog has no patience then the person needs to look at themselves and ask if they have patience. Without being totally rude I think you should ponder that thought. You have asked us for help with your aggressive dog. Upon the offers of advice you have become upset and basically attacked these people who were trying to be helpful.

June 7th, 2005, 11:02 PM
Tenderfoot, your post is well taken. I appreciate the comments about leadership and it makes complete sense. I will check out your website.

To those comments, the female generally listens to commands (sit, shake, down, come, stay) and responds to these about 90% of the time on the first command. However, if there is another dog near (aside from the other male, who she has always been able to concentrate around, except for these incidents), she will become easily distracted.

I will have to politely disagree with your last statement. I don't know how to make this any more clear - the advice provided in this thread has been great and I am very appreciative (I believe I have said so several times already).

Really, the only part of this thread that I took issue with were the misconceptions proposed by Lucky in his/her last response, which, as I have demonstrated, were ill spoken.

Thanks again for your input.

Lucky Rescue
June 7th, 2005, 11:32 PM
Listen, I understand you have 18,000 posts here and probably fancy yourself the King or Queen of your online domain. Regardless, I would suggest that you lower your pedestal a tiny bit, try to actually read what is being said with an open mind and respond with a little less arrogance. Just a thought.

Sarcasm is not a very intelligent form of humour (if you meant to be humourous).

I do not consider myself queen or king of anything, just a person who has owned this breed for the last three years, and learned everything I know about them from others with more experience. I never belittled advice I got, but took it seriously.

You might want to try listening instead of being defensive and hostile and you might learn something.

Just a thought.

June 8th, 2005, 07:39 AM
I don't think that Scurry was trying to be rude or insult anybody, I find that this person has been very calm and well-spoken. Perhaps just a bit exasperated that a method of punishment suggested by a trainer is not the appropriate technique? It may not be true for people on this board but much of the time, a trainer is regarded as a knowledgeable and experienced authority figure that many dog owners listen to. Also, Scurry has been receptive to ideas like the watch me suggestion and tenderfoot's theory about leadership - love, trust and respect. It's understandable that he is finding it hard to accept that what the trainer suggested is wrong.

"Alpha rolls worked great for the monks a couple of hundred years ago, but is not recommended anymore" - this is why so many people still result to physical punishment - because it works on some level (or at least they think it works).

The idea that Scurry needs to "manage the aggression" (instead of punishment) is logical but what happens if/when he can't? As vigilent as Scurry might be, eventually there will be a slip-up. Some form of punishment would be the obvious choice for most dog owners. If not physical, then what should Scurry do if his management fails? Just say that it's his fault and try better next time? This doesn't seem like a solution either?!

June 8th, 2005, 08:45 AM
Perhaps I was reading too much emotion in the posts myself. We humans are so easily influenced by the moment.
This is about getting her to choose good behavior out of respect for you. She doesn't have to like her brother being at level eye contact but she does have to have manners.
It sounds like your female is really great on a lot of levels (kudos to you), it just might be at the last crucial level when she is overwhelmed by her own emotion and doesn't think to look to you. This would be your responsibility then to see that first 'locked in stare' that predicts her next move and give her a VERY firm "leave it" with a leash correction if you need it. The leash correction might, however, set her off. So do just enough but not so much that your energy feeds into her and encourages her to get pissy.
Practice at distances that might get her thinking about bad behavior, but not so close that she is ready to pounce. You need to practice in a realm where she/you can be successful and then get closer to the real scenario and be successful there.
Every time she nails the male she has failed at some level so we need to get her back to success and repeat, repeat, repeat. Reward her when she does the right thing with soft praise and maybe a stroke of your hand - both need to be in a calm energy.
P.S. I apologize for that last comment in my last post. Upon re-reading your posts in a clearer mind - I do see that if read in a calm manner you were really only bothered about certain statements and not as intense as I previously thought.

June 8th, 2005, 12:27 PM
I just wanted to add that I agree with Tenderfoot 100%. I may not have a pit bull type dog, but my beagle can and has been aggressive to other dogs. And I'm not saying the odd growl and snap, I'm talking grabbing another dog by the neck and pinning it to the ground. This scared me!

She has learned the watch me command and knows the drop/leave it command. I have learned to watch her body language and know when another dog has erked her in some way. Be it rough play or the way he/she has presented him/herself to my dog. I just tell her no or leave it very firmly and she does. Her focus switches over to me and that is the end of it. No fight.

I think that it might help in your case. You dog has to look to you for guidance and if you say no, then she should listen.

On a side note, I'd like to add that I think it is great that you have helped start a rescue for this breed. We need more people like you who love and respect this breed of dog.

June 8th, 2005, 06:01 PM
Thank you, Lissa for your note, I appreciate that. I was beginning to think I was just naturally an a-hole and hadn't figured it out on my own yet. And thanks to Tenderfoot for the good advice (again) and Beagle, as well.

To the comments, I certainly can tell when she gets that locked in stare. What I have not spent much time on and will, as you suggested, is starting her from a distance and beginning the praise/leave it gradually. I had generally just been taking them to the gate, would stop it right before it happened and then take her back in. I think with some gradual coaching before she is too close to him, I can help things. The leash tug usually doesn't do any good, but more harm, from what I have observed. She pretty much just fights it and continues her attempts to get at him.

From these messages, this is what I think I will attempt:
(1) Teach her the watch it command (This is sort of like getting her to respond to her name, from what I read)
(2) Try and slowly reinforce her from a distance and gradually build up to them walking together
(3) Stop rolling her

Thanks again to all for the messages and advice. I'll try and give an update when (not if) we make progress.


June 8th, 2005, 06:16 PM
It would be good to work on her respect for the leash if the 'correction' is ineffective. It's not about the actual 'dink' on the collar as much as it is a reminder to her that you are asking her to make a better choice. She needs to learn that the collar/leash are not to ignore or argue with but that they are a means of communication and that she needs to listen. Working the "stay close" drill would help with that. Let me know if you want the outline for that drill.